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The voice of the Viola in Times of Opression: viola as a voice for the persecuted

altviool voice of the viola

The viola sonata by Dick Kattenburg (1919-1944) consists of only one movement, allegro moderato. The reason is simple: before Kattenburg could complete the work, he was arrested during a raid in a cinema and sent to Westerbork on 5 May 1944. Two weeks later, on 19 May 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. Kattenburg was only 24 years old.

Max Vredenburg (1904 -1976) is now mainly known as co-founder of the National Youth Orchestra. In the 1920s he left for Paris where he studied with Paul Dukas and Albert Roussel, composers who influenced him greatly. In 1941 he fled to Batavia and in 1942 he ended up in a Japanese camp. He survived the war but a large part of his family was murdered in Sobibor and Auschwitz. He composed the Lamento in 1953 in memory of his sister Elsa.

altvioool VredenburgMax1

Max Vredenburg © Maria Austria MAI

The sonata by Mieczysław Weinberg, originally composed for clarinet and piano, is perhaps the most complex of all the other works on this CD. It is also the only composition that is not only sad: you can also recognize fragments of klezmer and Jewish folklore in it.

And if you think you recognize the opening measures of Beethoven’s Mondscheinsonate in ‘Adagio’, you are right. Those notes are indeed in it. Just as in the adagio, the final movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s sonata. The work, dating from 1975, was his last composition, and shortly after the completion of the sonata he died of lung cancer.

I can only be brief about the performance: the absolute TOP! The sound that Ásdís Valdimarsdóttir elicits from her viola is of a rare beauty. It is so beautiful that it hurts. Listen to the Adagio of Weinberg’s sonata. Terrifying.

Marcel Worms, surely one of the greatest pianists/accompanists of our time, keeps himself a bit in the background, giving his Icelandic colleague all the honour of wearing glasses. But just listen carefully and experience how compassionate his contribution is. That’s what I think is called ‘partners in crime’. I can’t describe it any better.

Mieczysław Weinberg, Dick Kattenburg, Max Vredenburg, Dmitri Shostakovich
The voice of the Viola in Times of Opression
Ásdís Valdimarsdóttir (viola), Marcel Worms (piano)
Zefir Records ZEF 9657

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

Article in Dutch: The voice of the Viola in Times of Opression: de altviool als stem voor de vervolgden

Forbidden Music in World WAR II: PAUL HERMANN

Worshipped, ignored, forgotten: about Erich Wolfgang Korngold and ‘Die Tote Stadt’.

kORNGOLD kindHe was a child prodigy. At the age of twenty he was already world-famous and established as a composer. He wrote several operas, songs, concertos, symphonies, quartets, quintets and some more. His compositions were performed by prominent musicians such as Arthur Schnabel, Carl Fleisch, Bruno Walter, Rose and his quartet, Böhm, Tauber, Lotte Lehmann, Strauss…

He was the inventor of the famous Hollywood sound, which in reality was nothing more than a combination of the Viennese schmalz (including the waltz) and a healthy dose of tension and a sense of drama. Worshipped before the war, totally ignored afterwards.

Korngold, the son of a leading Austrian music critic, was destined to to become a musician – a genius! His father had not called him Wolfgang for nothing.

On the recommendation of Mahler, who became quite impressed by the boy’s talent, he was taught composition by Zemlinsky. After eighteen months (Korngold was then 12 years old) his teacher thought it was pointless to teach him anything.

An amusing anecdote also dates from that time. Zemlinsky was appointed chief conductor in Prague. When he heard that Korngold studied counterpoint with Hermann Grädener (then a famous music teacher), he sent him a telegram: “Dear Erich, I heard that you are studying with Grädaner. And, is he already making progress?”

Below: Korngold plays ‘Der Schneeman’ (piano roll):

 

Korngold was eleven years old when his ballet pantomime Der Schneeman premiered at the Vienna State Opera and at the age of eighteen he presented two operas: Ring des Polykrates and Violanta. The last one starring Maria Jeritza. Both achieved enormous success. “Meister von Himmel gefallen”, headlined one of the newspapers.

Korngold Jerirza Violanta

Maria Jeritza as Violanta

In 1934 Korngold left for Hollywood. His friend Max Reinhardt, a world-famous stage director, asked him to write music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a film he worked on at the time. Thanks partly to the beautiful music it became a great success and the directors of Warner Bros. offered Korngold a fantastic contract.

Below is a promotional film about making A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

 

Korngold lived between two worlds. Literally and figuratively. In the years 1934-1938 he commuted between Hollywood and Vienna. In the winter he worked on film music, the summers he spent on his more ‘serious’ works.

At that time his last opera, Die Kathrin, was created. The premiere (originally planned for January 1938) had to be postponed several times. Richard Tauber, who had taken over the leading role from Jan Kiepura, was working on a film in England and was only available in March.

On 22 January a telegram arrived: whether Korngold could be back in Hollywood within ten days, to start the score for The Adventures of Robin Hood as soon as possible. Korngold considered it an omen and with the last ship he left Europe on 29 January 1938. On 3 February he arrived in New York, together with his wife and one of his two children (the rest of the family followed a month later).

Below is a trailer of Robin Hood:

He was doing well in America and was very successful (two of his films won an Oscar), but still he didn’t feel at home there. His heart and soul had stayed behind in Vienna. In 1949 he travelled back to Vienna, but nobody knew him anymore. In Salzkammergut he visited his villa, where he had once been so happy. What a pleasure that you have returned”, was said to him. And when will you leave again? Disillusioned he returned to Hollywood, where seven years later he literally died of a broken heart.

Below: Konrad Jarnot sings Korngold’s ‘Sonnett fur Wien’:

DIE TOTE STADT

KOrngold TS poster

“This cover illustration of the Schott publication of excerpts from Die tote Stadt, arranged for piano duet, depicts very well the sort of atmosphere which Korngold sought to portray. The medieval city of Bruges with its dark streets, canals, processing nuns and tolling church bells.

“Any act requires oblivion,” Nietsche wrote in one of his pamphlets. “To survive one sometimes has to destroy one’s past.” Korngold must have known, because it is precisely with these words that you can summarize the real themes of his best-known opera, Die Tote Stadt.

After the death of his wife, Paul, a widower, locked himself up in his house in a deserted Bruges, where he lives among the relics. One day he meets a young woman who reminds him of his deceased wife, and in whom he sees her reincarnation. What follows is a ‘Vertigo’-like, hallucinatory search through the mystical and misty city, balancing between dream and reality. Only when Paul lets go of the past, he can leave the ‘dead city’ and start a new future.

 

The Tote Stadt had its world premiere in Cologne (under the direction of Otto Klemperer) and Hamburg on 4 December 1920, followed by the rest of the world. Before the war it was the most played of all contemporary operas. And because Maria Jeritza had chosen the work for her American debut, Die Tote Stadt became the first opera to be performed in the Metropolitan Opera in New York after the First World War. In German.

Below: Maria Jeritza sings ‘Glück das mir verblieb’ in a 1922 recording:

KORNGOLD IN THE NETHERLANDS

Korngold den haag

taken from “A boy of cheeky sway” by Caspar Wintermans

After the very successful premieres in Cologne and Hamburg, Die Tote Stadt travelled around the world. A year later there were also enthusiastically received performances in Vienna and New York, but the Netherlands had to wait until 1929. The opera was performed on 26 January in The Hague, in the Building of Arts and Sciences. It was a one-off performance in the series of so-called ‘Extraordinary Opera Evenings’, produced by Jacob Meihuizen, then director and intendant of the Building of Arts and Sciences.

Korngold 1929 den Haag

taken from “A boy of cheeky sway” by Caspar Wintermans

Korngold himself conducted the Residentie Orkest, and the leading roles were sung by the then stars from Hamburg: Gertrude Geyersbach, Fritz Scherer and Josef Degler. It was an overwhelming success, even though the hall was not fully occupied. After the second act the applause was so great that the composer had to appear on stage.

Yet the review in the NRC was only moderate. The reviewer found the music old-fashioned, weak and sentimental, and the story (of which I don’t think he had understood much) too ridiculous for words. How different in Het Volk! A.d.W. had already studied the score long before the performance, and considered it a “work of inwardness, of lautrer Innenklang”. He also added: “After a year of dealing with work, I dared to express my understanding of its inner value in written and spoken words.”

In his extensive article he concludes that he loves the music: “There is something very attractive and youthful in it, the heart is always strongly involved, and nowhere the technical skills dominate. An important thing in this music, filled with and drenched in moods, is that it moves from peak to peak, always with tension and with core themes full of invention”. And he ends with: “A work like this needs to be given again later. I believe that the public will certainly appreciate it, now that the ice of acquaintance has broken”.

A work like this needs to be given again later….. A.d.W. wrote it 90 years ago, on 28 January 1929. After 1938 ‘Die Tote Stadt’ was no longer played. Only at the end of 1970s it started a cautious comeback.

 

Korngold boek

If you would like to read more about Korngold in the Netherlands, I warmly recommend “Een jongen van brutale zwier” (“A boy of cheeky sway”)  by Caspar Wintermans.

Wintermans in the introduction to his book: “In a life that was overshadowed by jalousie de métier and racism, this pet child of muses has created an oeuvre that shimmers and glows with joy and beauty, that gives lustre and colour to the existence of lovers of late-Romanticism, who know that it is never too late for romance. “

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Das Wunder der Annemarie Kremers ‘Heliane’

Discovering Jerzy Fitelberg

Fitelberg-Arc-Esnsemble1

Is the music world finally waking up?

Not if it’s up to the big record companies. With them we are still condemned to Bachs, Beethovens and Wagners. Fortunately, smaller labels like Chandos still exist. A while ago they surprised us with a CD with chamber works by Paul Ben-Haim, now they know how to make me overjoyed with Jerzy Fitelberg.

While Ben-Haim’s name was still a little known here and there, Fitelberg’s name was not. At least not Jerzy’s,  because there are still enough old recordings of his father Grzegorz, who was a famous conductor.

FitelbergJerzy1expanded

Jerzy Fitelberg (1903 – 1951) was born in Warsaw and first studied with his father who had him play as a percussionist in the orchestra of the National Theatre in order to gain experience. From 1922 he studied composition with Franz Schreker in Berlin, among others. In 1927 he made a name for himself by re-orchestrating Sullivan’s Mikado for Erik Charell’s operetta-revue in the Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin. In 1933 he fled first to Paris and from there to New York.

Fitelberg was one of the favourite composers of Copland and Artur Rubinstein, among others. He himself described his compositional style as “full of the energy and high tension of Stravinski combined with the harmonic complexity of Hindemith and the colours of Milhaud’s French music. Plus the much-needed satire”.

Below an arrangement, made by Stefan Frenkel, of a Tango from Fitelberg’s opera ‘Der schlechgefesselte Prometheus’,played by Marleen Asberg (violophone) and Gerard Bouwhuis (piano) at a concert given by the Ebony Band, April 25, 2013 in Amsterdam,

 

His works were often performed until his death, after which they disappeared from the stage. Until more than sixty years later the ARC Ensemble (yes, the same ensemble that recorded the Ben-Haim CD) picked up the thread.

The first string quartet from 1926 starts with a resolute Presto, which reminds me a lot of Mendelssohn, but not for long. Soon Slavic themes pass by to make way for the melancholic Meno mosso. Beautiful.

The second string quartet , overloaded with prizes in 1928, sounds a bit like Janaček, but with Polish instead of Moravian dances in the background. The sonatine for two violins mixes all the contradictions of the late 1930s: entertainment, jazz and a (cautious) atonality.

Fisches Nachtgesang, a night music for clarinet, cello and celesta is so beautiful that it hurts. It reminds me of a night candle, which goes out carefully. Covered with the soothing words “go to sleep, but don’t worry about it”, but you’re not really reassured.

The members of the Canadian ARC Ensemble, who play contagiously well, all work at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music. What a CD! Ten out of ten!

Jerzy Fitelberg
Chamber Works
String Quartets Nos 1 and 2
Serenade; Sonatine; Night musik “Fisches Nachtgesang”.
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 10877

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

THE STEPSISTERS OF MARIA CALLAS

Traviata Callas

Would we still love Callas so much if she had been an ‘ordinary’ happy person, like most of her colleagues? If she had been happily married and had had children, what she so longed for? If she didn’t suffer from bulimia and was not constantly fighting with her weight and body? If she had not fallen in love with Aristoteles Onassis, the super-rich Greek shipowner who left her to marry an even more famous lady? And if she had not lost her voice prematurely? Speculations, of course, but since even the most honest opera lover has something of a tabloid reader it keeps buzzing. People simply love gossip.

callas-onassis-pinterest

Rumour, success, being in the spotlight, are the most important ingredients in the lives of people who find their lives boring and everyday and lose themselves in the stories of the ‘rich and beautiful’. It should be noted that they feast most on the dark sides of the stories, because there is no greater happiness than sorrow.

Maria Callas was a diva with a true cult status. She owed this not only to her singing, but also to her unmistakable acting talent, her attractive appearance and her, unfortunately, more than tragic personal life.

However great, famous, loved and adored, Maria Callas was, she did not invent opera, nor was she the greatest actress amongst singers. Not all singers were equally gifted actors, but the image of a fat lady standing motionless on stage fluttering only her hands is not at all accurate.

Just think of Conchita Supervia, Geraldine Farrar, Marjorie Lawrence or Grace Moore, but there were more.

supervia

Conchita Supervia as Carmen

Geraldine Farrar as Carmen in a film from 1915:

What Callas truly was, was a pioneer in (dramatic) belcanto, and that happened more or less by accident (consult the DVD The Callas Conversations vol. II). It was a genre that at the time was a little neglected. It was she who gave us back the forgotten operas of Bellini, Donizetti and Spontini, but was she really the first?

There are many more sopranos from the time of Callas who sang at the highest level and deserve to be discussed. The sopranos I am going to talk about were all more or less Callas’ contemporaries and all sang almost the same repertoire (not counting spinto sopranos that sang mainly verist roles, such as Magda Olivero, Carla Gavazzi or Clara Petrella).

These divas missed the chance to be in the right place at the right time. Or: to meet someone who was important enough not only to boost your career, but also to give you a record deal.

callas-gioconda-nanopress

Maria Callas as La Gioconda in 1952

Cynical?

It has always been like this and nowadays it is no different, although we are dealing with another aspect: the ideal of beauty. If you don’t meet it, you can say goodbye to your career in advance – fat people are not even allowed to audit in many theatres anymore and a starting Callas would have absolutely no chance at all now.

 

                                         ANITA CERQUETTI

cerquetti

Her career, like that of Callas, didn’t last long. She was born in 1931 and made her opera debut as Aida in Spoleto as early as 1951 (!). She became – typically enough – the most famous by stepping in for a sick Callas in 1958. While she was still in a production of Norma in Naples, she sang some performances of the same opera by Bellini at the opera house of Rome, instead of La Divina.

Anita Cerquetti sings ‘O re dei cieli’ from Agnese di Hohenstauffen by Spontini:

On the label Bongiovanni (GB 1206-2, unfortunately not on You Tube) you can hear her in the famous ‘Casta diva’ from Norma. For me this is one of the most beautiful performances of this aria ever. Goosebumps.

Cerquetti sings Norma. Recording from 1956:

 

                                     LEYLA GENCER

gencer

Born in 1928 in a small town close to Istanbul, Gencer, just like Callas, has a cult status, even today, but on a smaller scale. She had a Turkish father and a Polish mother, which made her proficient in that language. There is even a pirate recording of her with songs by Chopin in Polish:

Gencer’s real speciality was belcanto. She sang her first Anna Bolena only a year after Callas:

And unlike Callas, she also included the other Tudor Queen operas by Donizetti in her repertoire: Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda.

gencer-alle-drie-tudor

Gencer as all three Tudor Queens

Besides all her Bellini’s, Donizetti’s and Verdi’s, and between Saffo by Paccini and Francesca da Rimini by Zandonai, she also sang some of Mozart’s songs. Fortunately, her Contessa (Le nozze di Figaro) in Glyndebourne was recorded and released on  CD some time ago. For the rest, you have to settle for the pirates.

Her round and clear voice – with the famous pianissimi, which only Montserrat Caballé could match – is so beautiful that it hurts. If you have never heard of her before, listen below to ‘La vergine degli angeli’ from La forza del Destino, recorded in 1957. Bet you’re going to gasp for breath?

                                          VIRGINIA ZEANI

zeani

Have you noticed how many great singers come from Romania? Virginia Zeani is one of them, born in Solovăstru in 1925.

Zeani made her debut when she was 23 as Violetta in Bologna (indented for Margherita Carossio). That role would become her trademark. There is a costly anecdote about her debut in Covent Garden: it was in 1960 and she was a last minute replacement for Joan Sutherland, who became ill. She arrived late in the afternoon and there was hardly time to try on the costume. Before she went on stage, she asked very quickly: ‘Which of the gentlemen is my Alfredo?

zeani-traviata

The soprano sang no less than 69 roles, including many world premieres. In 1957 she created the role of Blanche in Dialogues des carmélites by Poulenc. Her repertoire ranged from Handel (Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare), via Bellini, Donizetti, Massenet and Gounod to Wagner (Elsa and Senta). With of course the necessary Verdis and Puccinis and as one of her greatest star roles Magda in The Consul by Menotti:

I myself am completely obsessed with her Tosca, but also her Violetta should not be missed by anyone. Her coloratures in the first act are more than perfect. And then her ‘morbidezza’… Do it for her!

Below her ‘Vissi d’arte’ (Tosca), recorded in 1975, when she was over fifty:

                                           CATERINA MANCINI

mancini

Never heard of her? Then it’s time to make up for the damage, because I promise you a voice out of thousands, with a beautiful height, pure coloratures (all ‘al punto’) and a drama that could make even La Divina jealous.

Mancini sings “Santo di patria… Da te questo m’è concesso” from Attila by Verdi:

Mancini’s career also lasted only a short time. People talked about health problems, but what really happened? The fact is that the soprano, born in 1924, stopped working as early as 1960. Although her name can still be found in 1963, as contralto (!) at the concert in memory of Kennedy.

Mancini made her debut in 1948, as Giselda in I Lombardi. At the Scala she already sang Lucrezia Borgia in 1951. Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini are not lacking in her repertoire.

The Italian label Cetra has recorded a lot with her; difficult to obtain, but so very worthwhile to look for!

At her best I find her as Lida in La Battaglia di Legnano by Verdi. Below a fragment of it:

                                     MARCELLA POBBE

pobbe

Marcella Pobbe may be a bit of an outsider in this list, as she had fewer belcanto roles in her repertoire (Gluck and Rossini, but no Bellini). But the Verdi and Puccini heroines she more or less had in common with La Divina.

Pobbe sings ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ from Il Trovatore:

She also sang a lot of Mozart and Wagner. But what made her really famous is Adriana Lecouvreur from Cilea

Pobbe was exceptionally beautiful. Elegant, elegant, almost royal. And her voice was exactly the same: her singing flowed like a kind of lava, in which you could lose yourself completely. Nobody then thought it necessary to record her. We already had La Divina, didn’t we?

Pobbe sings ‘Ave Maria’ from Otello by Verdi:

Listen below for example to ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ from Adriana Lecouvreur and think of that golden age, which is irrevocably over.

In Dutch: DE STIEFZUSSEN VAN MARIA CALLAS

see also: OPERA FANATIC: road movie met opera sterren

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

‘A Streetcar named desire’ twenty years after its premiere

Streetcar affiche

I had been playing with the idea of writing about modern American operas, because nowhere in the world is opera as alive as it is there. Romantic, minimalistic, dodecaphonic: something for everyone.

But ask the average opera lover (the diehards know Heggie, Barber and Menotti) to name an American opera composer: bet that they will not get beyond Philip Glass and John Adams. Why is that? Because we, Europeans, have a nose for American culture and feel superior in everything. That’s why.

September 1998 it was exactly twenty years ago that an important American opera had its premiere in San Francisco: A Streetcar named desire by André Previn, after the play by Tennesee Williams. I was there.

Streetcar scene

Elisabeth Futral (Stella), Rodney Gilfrey (Stanley) and Renée Fleming (Blanche) © Larry Merkle

THE PREMIERE

Expectations were high. Tennesee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the best known and most important American plays. Its adaptation by Elia Kazan in 1951 not only earned the play worldwide recognition but also a real cult status; and the main characters – curiously enough except for Marlon Brando – were all rewarded with an Oscar.

Streetcar film

The play was made into a film twice more, without success.  Not surprisingly, there are few films – or dramas – so intensely linked to the actors’ names. Still, it was the ultimate dream of Lotfi Mansouri, the then boss of the San Francisco Opera, to turn ‘Streetcar’ into an opera. Leonard Bernstein was approached but showed no interest.

The choice eventually fell on André Previn, a choice that seemed a bit strange to some, after all he had never composed an opera before.

Philip Littel, an old hand in the trade, wrote the libretto. He was best known for The Dangerous Liaisons, an opera that premiered two years earlier with great success. Colin Graham was the director and for the leading roles, great singer-actors were cast.

The libretto closely follows the play  and does not shy away from even the most difficult details. Small cuts have been made and Littel allowed himself a small addition: the Mexican flower saleswoman with her sinister ‘Flores, flores para los muertos’ returns at the end of the third act, with a clear message for Blanche. To me this felt slightly superfluous.

The stage images resembled those from the film. The first scene already: mist, a little house with the stairs to the upstairs neighbours and Blanche, carrying her little suitcase, singing ‘They told me to take a streetcar named Desire…” A feast of recognition for the film lover.

You recognise fragments of Berg, Britten, Strauss and Puccini in the music, which is easy on the ears. The atmosphere is partly determined by strong jazz influences and you hear many trumpet and saxophone solos. Logical, after all, it takes place in New Orleans.

The opera is through-composed, but contains numerous arias: Stella and Mitch get one, there is a duet for Stella and Blanche, and Blanche herself is very richly endowed with solo’s.

All attendees speculated what notes Stanley would get to sing with his famous “Stelllllaaa!!!

None, as it turned out. Rodney Gilfrey (Stanley), just like Marlon Brando in the movie stood at the bottom of the stairs and shouted. And just like in the movie Stella came back. The next morning she woke up humming. And she responded to Blanche with a beautiful big aria “I can hardly stand it”.

Streetcar Stanley

Elisabeth Futral (Stella) and Rodney Gilfrey (Stanley) © Larry Merkle

Elisabeth Futral provided a true sensation in her role of Stella. Blessed with a brilliant, light, agile soprano, she sang the stars from the sky and was ovationally applauded by the press and the public.

Streetcar rode hemd

Stanley Kowalski’s role was Rodney Gilfrey’s own. He even did me, even if it had been forgotten Brando for a while. I don’t know how he did it, but he could sing and chew gum at the same time! He looked particularly attractive in both the torn white T-shirt and the “red silk pajamas”. Unfortunately Previn didn’t give him an aria to sing, which made him even more unsympathetic as a person.

Mitch was sung very sensitively by the then unknown tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, and Blanche…..  André Previn wrote the role especially for Renée Fleming and you could hear that. Sensational.

Meanwhile Fleming has added her large aria ‘I Want Magic’ to her repertoire and recorded it in the studio for the CD with the same name.

CD

Streetcar-Named-Desire-768x761cd

The opera was recorded live by DG and brought on the market in the series 20/21 (music of our time).


DVD

Streetar dvd

The opera has now become a classic and is performed in many opera houses in many countries, but the chance that you will ever see the opera in the Netherlands is virtually nil. Fortunately it was also recorded on DVD (Arthaus 100138). Not so long ago I have watched it again.

“Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” sings Blanche Du Bois (Fleming), disappearing into the distance. She is led away by a psychiatrist, whom she sees as a worshipper.

Her words echo on, a trumpet plays in the distance, and strings take over the blues. The heat is palpable, the curtain falls and I look for a handkerchief. Before that I spent two and a half hours on the edge of my chair and even forgot the glass of whiskey I filled at the beginning of the opera.

People: buy the DVD and get carried away. It is without a doubt one of the best operas of the last twenty years.

Renée Fleming in conversation with André Previn about the opera:

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

DVD WRAP.QXD (Page 1)

The kindness of Strangers’ is also the title of a film about André Previn:

 

Translated with https://www.deepl.com/Translator

In Dutch: André Previns ‘A Streetcar named desire’ twintig jaar na de première

SIR THOMAS ALLEN

                                LET BEAUTY AWAKE

Allen portret gubelkian

In my opinion Thomas Allen is one of the greatest singers of the past half century. His balmy voice with its warmth, colours and nuances makes me happy every time I hear it. It even feels comforting, like a warm bath. The English have the perfect description for this: “meltingly beautiful singing.” Yes, I am a fan!

 

This all-around baritone, equally at home in opera, art song, oratorio, musical theatre and even movies is held in high esteem all over the world. Except in the Netherlands, where he is barely known. Small wonder: apart from a few rare visits to the Concertgebouw he never sang here. The reason is simple: he was never asked.

DON PASQUALE

Allen recording

Recording Don Pasquale in Munich. Sir Thomas Allen, Renato Bruson, Eva Mei, Frank Lopardo © Wernard Neumeister

 

I first met Thomas Allen in December 1993 in London, after his recital in St James’s Church where he sang Die Schöne Müllerin.  We never really talked until a few weeks later in the BMG Studios in Munich, where he was recording Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

 

I was allowed to attend the recording sessions. In a small corner I looked and listened, deeply admiring this beautiful singer. He sang the hardest coloratura passages in one long breath, and repeated them endlessly. His hands made elegant gestures. Everything about him, in fact, was acting. What a contrast with the recital in London a few weeks earlier, which had moved me to tears. There he stood motionless on stage, focused, acting only with his eyes.

How can he do that?

ACTING

“How I can do that …  “

“When you are recording the visual element is, of course, absent. The only thing you have is your imagination. When I think about Malatesta, I imagine an elegant man in a beautiful suit. My hands then start to move automatically, which helps me find the colours I need to sound convincing.”

 

“It works somewhat differently with art songs, I think. I cannot stand singers who move around too much on stage. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Art songs need to be done with a certain discipline, with restraint. I do not permit myself more than eye expressions. Now you have to understand, this is how I feel, it fits my personality, but it will not work for everybody.

You know what my secret is when I sing art songs? It starts in your heart and then it rises to the head …. it is a combination of heart and brain.  Somewhere in between – through the throat – it comes out….”

FISCHER-DIESKAU

“I learned to sing by looking at my older colleagues. I am like a parrot, I imitate everything. My great example was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In fact, he was more of an idol than an example. In art song, at least. My God, how have I admired that man!”

“Over the times I have come to think a little more nuanced about him. I have more experience now, which has also influenced my thinking. I still admire his Wolf and his Pfitzner. Much more so than his romantic repertoire like Schubert and Schumann.”

“A couple of years ago I first met him, and believe me, I shook in my boots like a complete novice! That man has been an idol and an example to me for years.  And not just to me! For the entire generation of singers of thirty, forty and even fifty years ago he was the ideal. So when critics compared me to him I took that as a huge compliment.”

“In opera I never had a similar role model. I learned the profession, as I said, like a parrot. You start with copying a singer, afterwards you learn to interpret a piece of music. My technique kept improving over the years. There has been a time in my life I was seriously hooked on opera. I hardly sang art songs, never gave recitals. I honestly must say that was the saddest period of my life. It was not healthy for me. Fortunately everything ended well.”

“Singing art songs has in fact helped me with operatic acting. It made me more relaxed and my acting quieter. I used to run from one end of the stage to the other, always moving. Singing art songs gave me greater focus on the opera stage.

DIRECTORS

“Yes, the director is important. How far do I go? Until it becomes ridiculous or clashes with the text. Then I stop. I am not a difficult person, more cooperative, in fact, but I cannot stand people who ignore the libretto simply because of their own ideas. Or because of what they want to see themselves. “

Alen Almaviva

Thomas Allen as Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro

“I will give you an example. A few years ago, in Le Nozze di Figaro, I had to disappear through a trapdoor at the moment I sang ‘Son tutti contenti’. That was ridiculous, so I asked the director why. Almaviva is no Don Giovanni, after all. But he did not know himself. „C’est une idée“, he said. So I refused to do it. A director who cannot explain something is reason enough for me to say no.”

“What really upsets me is they believe singers have nothing to say! And that we are manipulated all the time, either by directors or by conductors. But singers are no idiots. They have learned a lot over the years. They have a lot of experience and are very good at their profession. They can contribute a lot to a production. Directors should listen to singers more often.”

REPERTOIRE

Allen als mooie Giovanni

Thomas Allen as Don Giovanni

Over the years Thomas Allen has built up a comprehensive repertoire. He sings Monteverdi, Purcell and Gluck, and contemporary music as well, including world premieres of pieces by Thea Musgrave and John Casken.

He has sung all the great opera roles by Mozart, Strauss, Wagner, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini. His Billy Budd is legendary.

 

He still is one of the most beautiful Hamlets (Thomas) and

 

Evgenij Onegins: both in English and Russian.

 

Thomas Allen has also appeared in Mrs Henderson Presents and other movies.

In 1993 he published his autobiography ‘Foreign Parts – A Singer’s Journal.’

Allen made his professional debut in 1969 at the Welsh National Opera and in October that year he sang his first big role: Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In 2009 he celebrated his forty years on stage. For the occasion a fan made a compilation of his greatest roles until then.

English translation: Remko Jas

In Dutch: Let Beauty Awake: SIR THOMAS ALLEN

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Entartete Musik swing

WALTER BRAUNFELS

Braunfels

In 1933 Walter Braunfels was dismissed from his post as director of the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. Until then he had been, with Richard Strauss and Franz Schreker, one of the most frequently performed contemporary composers.  He retired to the Bodensee region (in his biography this is beautifully described as an “inner emigration’). After the war, on special request of Chancellor Adenauer, Braunfels returned to Cologne. The attention he received was limited to a few performances of his works. Disillusioned, he moved back to the Bodensee

BERTHOLD GOLDSCHMIDT

Entartet Beatrice Cenci

In 1935 Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) left Germany and travelled to London. Against his better judgement he kept composing, but his works remained unperformed. In 1951 Goldschmidt won an opera composition contest with Beatrice Cenci, which had to wait until 1988 for its first concert performance.

In the 1980s, stimulated by the renewed interest in his work, Goldschmidt started to compose again. His Rondeau from 1995, written for and performed by Chantal Juilliet,  was recorded by Decca, together with his beautiful Ciaccona Sinfonica from 1936. This CD has been out of print for years now, and the composer’s works have all but disappeared from the concert platform.

 

 

Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Ullmann, Schreker, Schoenberg, Toch, Weill, Krenek, Spoliansky, Holländer, Grosz, Waxman, Haas, Krasa, Schulhoff, Klein… a litany of names. Labelled “entartet” and banned by the Nazis, vilified, driven away, murdered. The composers who survived the war were forgotten, just like those who were murdered. Has this all really been the fault of the Nazis?

Entartet Goldschmidt en haas

Michael Haas and Berthold Goldschmidt

Michael Haas, the producer of Decca’s recording series Entartete Musik had a logical explanation. “After the war the new generation of composers felt a sense of guilt. Something similar should never happen again, and they found a remedy for that. They thought it was necessary to create objective music, without sentiment and subjected to strict rules. Music had to be universal. Serialism was born. In Darmstadt, the past was dealt with, including the composers from the 1930s. They were too romantic and sentimental, or borrowed too much from jazz and popular music. The Darmstadt school of composers became dominant, which meant an important link between the music of Mahler and Berio was lost. The bridge between the 1920s and the 1950s, the post-Schoenberg generation of composers.”

“My research started with a Weill project that unfortunately failed to take off. In the archives I discovered operas that were composed and performed in the 1920s and 1930s with immense success. I started to search for the scores, and my gut feeling was right. All of them were great compositions that deserved to be performed and recorded. Music history got back its logical order. “

WILHELM GROSZ

Enetartet Grosz

In the 1920s old values were shaken. The Great War had just ended. Countries had become independent, or had just lost their independency. Powerful new influences like jazz, blues, and exotic folklore appeared. Boundaries between classical and popular music were fading.

Of all the composers from that period, Wilhelm Grosz was perhaps the most versatile. He was born in Vienna in 1894 into a wealthy Jewish family. In 1919 he graduated from the Viennese Music Academy, where he was taught by, amongst others, Franz Schreker. In 1920 he finished his musicological studies at the Vienna University.

Grosz composed songs, operas, operettas, ballet music and  chamber music, and was a famous pianist as well. In 1928 he was appointed the artistic director of the Ultraphon record company in Berlin.

In 1929, commissioned by the prestigious Radio Breslau, he composed the song cycle Afrika Songs on lyrics by African-American poets.

Afrika Songs was premiered on 4 February 1930 and enthusiastically received. The cycle also became known as the  Jugendstil Spirituals, which probably is the most fitting description for it. There are jazz and blues influences, but the songs were also quite heavily influenced by the music of Zemlinsky, Mahler and … Puccini (compare Tante Sues Geschichten with Ho una casa nell’ Honan from the second act of Turandot!).

When he Nazis came to power, Grosz returned to Vienna. In 1934 he was forced to flee again, this time to London. There his popular works grew more distinct from his serious ones. His name became forever attached to a series of world wide hits. The Isle of Capri, for example, was the big hit of 1934.

ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL

Entartet Gosz Santa Fe

In 1938 Grosz left for Hollywood. He composed the music for Along the Santa Fe Trail, a movie with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan in the leads. He had a heart attack in 1939 and died, aged only 45.

 

AFRIKA SONGS AND MORE

Entartete Gosz Africa

After almost sixty years Grosz was rediscovered, although only briefly. It is hard to believe, but the Afrika Songs were not recorded until 1996! The Matrix Ensemble performed them for the firs time at the Proms in 1993. The CD also includes the song cycle Rondels, Bänkel und Balladen and the hits Isle of Capri, When Budapest Was Young and Red Sails in the Sunset, songs we all know but never knew who composed them.

Vera Lynn sings Red Sails in the Sunset in 1935

Mezzo Cynthia Clarey and baritone Jake Gardner are splendid in the Afrika Songs and Andrew Shore makes a party of Bänkel und Balladen. Nothing but praise for the  Matrix Ensemble.

 

UTE LEMPER

Entartet Lemper

We meet the Matrix Ensemble again, this time accompanying Ute Lemper on a recording of Berlin cabaret songs. Cabaret in Berlin in the 1920s and the 1930s.  Countless books and articles have been written about it, and it has inspired many movies. Cabaret really was a world of its own, with the venerable Rudolf Nelson as its undisputed king. Pretty soon the younger generation made its mark on the cabaret scene:  Mischa Spoliansky and Friedrich Holländer. The lyrics (mainly by Marcellus Schiffer, but also by Tucholsky) scrutinised the spirit of the times. Everything was mocked, but serious topics were not eschewed either.

Ute Lemper sings Der Verflossene by Berthold Goldschmidt

Lemper’s choice of material is outstanding. Apart from a few widely known schlagers (Peter, Wenn die beste Freundin, Raus mit den Männern) she sings lesser known repertoire, amongst others a composition by Berthold Goldschmidt, Der Verf‌lossene. Goldschmidt was present during the recording sessions, just like the daughters of Spoliansky and Holländer.

Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Ullmann, Schreker, Schoenberg, Toch, Weill, Krenek, Spoliansky, Holländer, Grosz, Waxman, Haas, Krasa, Schulhoff, Klein… a litany of names.  With the naming of these names the documentary from the 1990s on Entartete Musik started.  I doubt the DVD is still for sale somewhere…

 

It is probably remaindered, like the entire prestigious Decca recording series. No money could be made from it. As Michael Haas remarked: “The series is very successful, it wins awards and it is praised. But it does not sell.”

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Entartete Betwee two worlds

In 1944 Korngold wrote music for the movie Between two worlds. It was to be one of his last movie compositions. In London, during World War II, a concert pianist tries to leave by boat to the United States but is refused an exit permit. He then decides to commit suicide. His wife joins him.

Those who commit suicide are refused at the gates of heaven. The pianist and his wife are therefore doomed to remain on a mysterious ship where the dead come to be judged.

 

Almost thirty years after the rediscovery of the once banned and rarely performed composers we still find ourselves between two worlds. The world of great fame and that of oblivion.

I really wonder one day listeners will again appreciate this music purely for the quality of it? I was optimistic then, but much less so nowadays.

English translation: Remko Jas

In Dutch: TUSSEN TWEE WERELDEN

More Entartete Music in English:
Forbidden Music in World Word II: PAUL HERMANN
SZYMON LAKS. MUSIC OF ANOTHER WORLD
JOSEPH BEER: POLNISCHE HOCHZEIT.
Worshipped, ignored, forgotten: about Erich Wolfgang Korngold and ‘Die Tote Stadt’.

In German:
Entartete Musik, Theresienstadt und Channel Classics. Deutsche Übersetzung